Sometimes I feel like this is one of the most important lessons I am supposed to be learning: being content with the small things I already have. I am guessing this is true for most of us.
I have been born privileged: healthy, of serviceable intelligence, and of middle class means. From the start there were no limits to the dreams I could dream, which I took for granted.
Life didn’t turn out bad for me; on the contrary. But it didn’t lead where I was thinking it would either. I find myself at this age questioning decisions, abilities, everything, unable to find peace with my life. They call that something, don’t they?
I think there is something in these concepts that are being thrown at us a lot nowadays, of hygge (a Danish feeling of comfort and well-being) and lagom (Swedish for “adequate” or “just right”).
This New Yorker article titled The Year of Hygge, the Danish Obsession with Getting Cozy gave me a lot of pause for though, because, yes, these nations are reportedly happier than other peoples, in spite of living in environments that are cold and seem adverse to any kind of joyful living. So do they have the answer? Is this it? Should we try to find our happiness in the small things that are plentiful in our days instead of always dreaming big, and often being let down over and over again?
I mean, obviously, not a very American concept, is it? The American culture has been so aggressively individualistic and proud of it that I doubt such ideas will take root here any time soon. Because for this philosophy to work, you must be somewhat community minded. Being content with little means that more of us can partake of the good life. Some of us have to tone down our aspirations in order for all of us to get a chance at dreaming at all. And I am more than fine with that. I think it’s the only ethical way to live.
When we value our lives in financial wealth, we limit ourselves to this world we already have: unhappy, skewed, stressful, violent, intolerant. We choose the path of fear and trembling because of the promise of greater rewards, which logically can only be bestowed upon few, we know too well, but we convince ourselves that we are indeed among those few, because we, each of us, are the special, chosen ones.
We end up despising the small good things that are already within our reach and invalidate their power to make us happy, because we need to stay hungry on the path of fear and trembling. The choices we’ve made as humanity are just mind-boggling, if you look at them with the right attitude.
Of course it is easier to go on and philosophize about how to solve the problems of all humanity instead of dealing with my own state of despondency. I do what I can. Now I’ll try to relax and seep some imaginary herbal tea. Because the actual instant coffee in my cup just doesn’t sound hygge enough—in the hipster and instagrammable understanding of the word. Not that I have a better understanding of it at all, which you must have gleaned by now, and which I’d never let stop me from the enjoyment of writing about it.
While I was reading your short version of how things turned out for you, it almost felt like you were echoing my life story. I was born and raised in India. My Family was all about working hard and being goal oriented. But, somewhere along the line, I lost the momentum. I did not achieve everything I set out to achieve. Is that such a bad thing? I don’t know. When I chip away at all the whining and complaining that I do in my head about how I should have done ‘more’, I realize that I have everything I want and need. I am happy. ‘Being still’ feels good. I might not have reached all of those goals, but I am content.
All the pictures hashtagged Hygge seem so hilarious and ironic. Apparently, you are in Hygge world only if you have a fire burning, wearing cozy socks, or relaxing any giant white fur rug! 🙂
Don’t you think, SA, that many people would be in the same place as us? Because we are taught young the value of dreaming big, which is the prevalent “universal” culture, and we cannot all succeed, although we might kill ourselves trying. We cannot all be high achievers—the math just doesn’t work. If we were taught moderation, maybe we’d deal with less stress and depression, which are so overspread at this point. I know in India the competition is very fierce especially for school kids, which is terrifying. We need to learn how to be happy living small but content lives. Such very hard thing to learn!
Yes, I feel the universal culture is “work hard, make it big, make it really big, enjoy your life”. That is actually not how it works 🙂 By the time you figure it out, most of us are stuck in a rat race. A satisfied life, a still mind, and small kindnesses towards yourself and people around you are the hardest to learn and achieve in these times.
No, it’s not how it works at all for most people. But that doesn’t stop everyone from chasing “the dream,” right?
Your post reminded me of a conversation I had with an American friend of mine over ten years ago. The topic of conversation was ambition and goals. My friend kept insisting that the only point in life is to have goals. If you don’t have goals and ambition, you are not living. What’s the point of life if you don’t want to get forward, to want to be somewhere else than where you are now? I remember feeling baffled; we just came from totally different viewpoints. (Luckily, despite our differences, we are still friends.)
Perhaps it is my Nordic heritage, but I have always felt uneasy about not being happy with what I’ve got. It has always been about the little things for me. I have always believed in not having anything else in life except for this very moment. Living in the past or the future is both impossible and dangerous.
I find the current hygge- trend a little funny. Hygge, or its Finnish cousin ‘kotoilu’ is an excellent, enjoyable concept, but the way it is being interpreted and presented via (social) media is just ridiculous. I feel that the very essence of hygge is to _not_ take pictures of your fireplace or knitting project or your cup of hot chocolate, because that takes you away from appreciating the moment. It should never be about how you portray that moment to outsiders. But perhaps that’s just the way things go these days. Nothing is real unless it is shared with others! 🙂
See, your comment is so interesting. How did cultures developed so differently? I grew up as the goal oriented type. I felt aiming at something big was the only thing giving meaning to life. But I grew up in a communist society. Isn’t that strange? Maybe it’s an individual thing, rather than cultural? Maybe at the confluence of the two? Or maybe my attitude was reactionary. But anyway, as I age, I realize that being happy with what you’ve got is the only way to reach any sort of contentment and peace of mind in life. I couldn’t agree with you more that living in the past or future is very dangerous for any mental well-being.
The hygge thing, I think, just matched naturally the current trend for “simplicity”, “handmade”, etc that’s what gave it such momentum. It is just a fad over here, in most part, not a real philosophy for life. Still, something new becomes somewhat mainstream and maybe it will have some lasting effect in some of us, right?
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